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Building collapse: Between professional and official negligence

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Building collapse: Between professional and official negligence

Barely two weeks after a three-storey building along Massey Street in Ita-Faaji, Lagos Island collapsed and left no fewer than 20 persons (including school children) dead and many others injured, another two-storey building situated along Kakawa Street, also in Lagos Island collapsed on Monday, March 25.

Although no life was lost in the second collapse, as residents had been exiting the building and surrounding shops which were earmarked for demolition, the situation has again brought to the fore the need to urgently check the spate of shoddy construction and government’s lack of standard regulation. While the government is blaming perceived quack engineers, the engineers themselves are pointing accusing fingers at government regulations.

The Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, NIQS, on March 26, paid a courtesy visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, obviously in the wake of reocurring collapses. President of the NIQS, Obafemi Onashile had during the visit, disclosed that the NIQS was preparing a bill that will among other provisions, control building and construction activities, and promote professionalism. According to him, the bill when signed into law, will halt the incessant collapse of buildings.

President Buhari in his response, had warned that defaulting construction engineers and owners of collapsed buildings will be made to face the full wrath of the law for what he described as “Professional negligence”. He reiterated that the recent tragic incident in Lagos, was a reminder of the need for engineers to strictly adhere to quality standards on construction projects.

“Young innocent lives must never be lost due to incompetence and greed. Simply put, no corners must be cut. I want to assure you that those responsible for such incidents of professional negligence will feel the full wrath of the law,” President Buhari warned.

Even though the Lagos State Government has marked out some buildings and commenced demolition in the culpable areas, the situation has sparked outrage, especially among professional builders. There have been calls for both the owner of the first collapsed building who was reportedly rescued alive alongside other members of his family, and the developer who according to reports, is managing the property on a 10-year lease period, which started in 2010, to be prosecuted.

The Nigerian Institute of Architects, NIA, in the aftemath of the incident, had blamed government’s lack of resolve and existing bureaucracy as stumbling blocks in check-mating quack construction.

Lagos Chapter Chairman of the NIA, Mr. Fitzgerald Umah had called on the government of Lagos State to urgently and transparently commence implementation of laws and provisions proffered by professional bodies. He lamented that some these provisions had either been abused, or flouted in the course of construction.

The National Building Code, according to Umah, proffers the minimum standard for the construction industry. He further assured that the NIA as a professional body, will be ready to collaborate with relevant agencies in ensuring that standard procedures are maintained in construction and that unwholesome and substandard construction is eked out of the system.

Commendably, the government of Lagos State is doing its best. Governor Akinwumi Ambode has set up a five-man panel to urgently investigate the remote causes of the double collapse. Rotimi Ogunleye, Commissioner for physical Planning and Urban Development, is chairing the panel.

The panel will among other terms of reference, “proffer remedial measures to stem further building collapse in the future, as well as determine the level of negligence on the part of the developer or owner,” he said.

Also, the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers, NICE, has clamored for a more strict regulation of the construction sector. Mrs. Lola Adetona, NICE Chairman, Lagos chapter, said quacks who venture into construction without the necessary know-how, are largely responsible for the series of building mishaps.

Cost implications according to her, makes clients prefer to deal with the quacks who come cheaper, rather than the professional builders. Citing the first collapse of a school building, she queried why and how approvals was secured from the government to run a school in such an environment, which was originally meant to be residential.

“The load design for residential buildings are different from commercial buildings and if the order is changed without the necessary adjustment, the result will turn out ugly as we are witnessing now. To check instant building collapse, the government, professionals and even the public should synergise by sharing information and ensuring proper regulation and implementation of available laws,” she said.

The body also noted that an aging building, if not maintained and renovated overtime, can collapse. According to NICE, a standard building upon construction, is expected to last not more than 50 years, after which renovation is inevitable.

“The regulatory bodies need to ensure that what they approved is what is constructed. For instance, a building approved as residential, should not be converted without changing the dynamies. Once you introduce none designed load to a building such as dead load like generator or any of such that was not envisaged in the original drawing, you are looking for trouble. There should be proper appraisal and retrofitting if you convert the use of the building,” NICE added.

Nigeria Institute of Building, NIOB, told the media that the incident did not come as a suprise, as many buildings on the Lagos Island area are in a sick state. This he said is because many of the buildings were not professionally built. They were designed and constructed by quacks who barely know the complexities attributed with standard construction.

According to Kunle Awobodu, Vice President of the NIOB, the collapse could still have been prevented if the government and other stakeholders had done their part. He said the buildings came down obviously because there were “too many interests” over the small portion of land on the island. There was inadequate air space. The houses were too close to each other.

“Unfortunately most developers do not understand the complexities in the building process. They are mostly driven by profit with total disregard to regulatory provisions and human lives. The regulatory agencies need to double their efforts to investigate buildings under construction and those already constructed, to ensure that they are built according to laid down regulations. From our studies we have over 1,000 buildings unfit for human habitation on Lagos lsland,” he said.

QUOTE

President of the NIQS disclosed that the NIQS was preparing a bill that will among other provisions, control building and construction activities, and promote professionalism. According to him, the bill when signed into law, will halt the incessant collapse of buildings

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